The Moroccan government is considering changes to women’s rights legislation after the suicide of 16-year-old Amina Filali, who was forced to marry her rapist and whose story has shocked Morocco.
Amina was raped by Mustafa Salek, 25, at knife-point in a forest on her way from school in her home village of Chourfa near the northern city of Larache, her family says.
Amina’s father lodged a legal complaint over the incident, but the judge organized for mediators to talk to the two families, and Amina was pressured into marrying her rapist to save her reputation and to allow him to avoid prison.
“It never seemed a good idea to me, but my wife insisted on it, because she feared society and tradition,” Amina’s father Lahcen Filali told the Spanish daily El Mundo.
However, Amina’s life with her new family turned out to be hell, with her husband beating her and her in-laws blaming her for the rape and calling her a prostitute, the Filali family says.
Amina committed suicide this month by swallowing rat poison — a desperate act that turned her into a symbol of the oppression of women in the North African kingdom.
The case has sparked a string of demonstrations, internet campaigns and promises from Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane’s Islamist government to consider legislative changes.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI is known as a pioneer of women’s rights in the Arab world.
The renewed family law or moudawana, adopted in 2004, made it possible for women to initiate divorce, outlawed the right of a man to single-handedly repudiate his wife, restricted polygamy and improved women’s inheritance rights, among other changes.
The new moudawana also raised the legal marriage age for women from 15 to 18, making it the same as for men.
However, women under the age of 18 can marry with the authorization of a judge, as happened to Amina Filali.
Conservative judges often apply the law according to traditional values, and issue more than 30,000 authorizations annually for under-age girls to marry.
Moroccan penal legislation also retains an article allowing a rapist to avoid prison by marrying his victim — a law women’s rights activists and human rights groups are campaigning against.
“It is unthinkable to be raped and then having to live with the rapist,” said Rhizlaine Benachir from the Jossour Forum of Moroccan Women.
“It is easy to say you forgive, while in fact (the law) authorizes rape. If there is no judicial pursuit, it only encourages rapists to continue raping.”
The law is in contradiction with Morocco’s new constitution - approved in July — which condemns discrimination against women, Benachir said.
Under Moroccan law, rapist can face jail terms of up to 20 years. Rape victims are often blamed for the crime, especially in rural villages, such as the one Amina Filali lived in.
Amina’s father, who has no money to hire a lawyer, is now counting on women’s rights activists to help him sue her daughter’s rapist for her suicide.
Benkirane’s government, which in November became the first Islamist party to take power, appeared confused about how to handle the Filali case.
Justice Minister Mustafa Ramid accepted the version of Mustafa Salek, the alleged rapist, who said Amina had agreed to have sex with him.
But Family Affairs Minister Bassima Hakkaoui — the only female minister in Benkirane’s coalition government, and an Islamist like Ramid — sided with feminists.
“The law needs to be reformed urgently and there will also be a debate on the marriages of minors,” she said.
“The young girl was raped twice,” government spokesman Mustafa el-Khalfi said. “She was raped sexually and by forcing her to marry her rapist.”